Gun Review: Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911

TTAG’s Fearless Leader called me up shortly before I left for Knob Creek. “I’m going to make your day” he said. He’s said this before. The last time an ArmaLite AR-50 showed up at my FFL. Needless to say, he had my attention. “I’m sending you a Wilson Combat 1911.” Sweet. I’ve been looking at upgrading from my Springfield A1 and this would give me an opportunity to test out the high end options, I thought. Maybe I could even get WC to strike me a deal on one if I liked it. Before I had a chance to say anything, RF dropped the bomb. “One more thing — I want you to keep it. Just do a full review.” Yes, boss. Right away . . .

RF has done a couple of posts about this gun already. We’re going to go over everything he did, but just in case you want to check it out here they are.

Wilson Combat is widely believed to be the makers of the finest Model 1911 style production pistols, taking John Moses Browning’s original design and improving it for the modern world. The pinnacle of that improvement is believed to be the Bill Wilson Carry, a 1911 style pistol whose specifications were dictated by Bill Wilson himself and designed to be the ideal handgun for concealed carry.

Luckily, I’ve been carrying a fullsize 1911A1 for a few months now and have some… complaints. Complaints which will now become my criteria for determining if it has earned a place in my waistband and fulfills its role as Bill Wilson’s anointed carry piece.

What specifically didn’t I like about my Springfield 1911A1?

  • The gun is too big and prints too easily.
  • The gun is too shiny (my own damn fault for choosing a “pretty” gun).
  • Sights suck.
  • Safety sucks, no beavertail.
  • Trigger is meh.
  • Not very reliable.

You know, just a couple of things. Minor stuff.

(BTW, remember to flip your camera to full manual mode with shiny guns folks. Otherwise the built-in metering will screw with your exposure settings and turn out stuff like this next picture.)

Complaint #1 was the biggest for me. With a full size 1911 I constantly felt like the muzzle was digging into my thigh and the grip was very obviously printing all day long. It was uncomfortable and made me constantly worry about if people noticed the large gun-shaped bulge.

The Bill Wilson Carry 1911 fixes these issues. The barrel is 4 inches instead of the traditional 5, and the grip is slightly smaller as well. While the barrel and grip may have changed size, everything else on the gun is the exact same as any other 1911 including the fire controls. For a better idea of how much smaller the grip is than a standard 1911 here’s a side-by-side comparison with a USGI style 7 round magazine inserted into each gun.

The grip is only a little bit smaller, but that little bit makes all the difference. The smaller grip is still big enough to fit my entire bear-like paw on it, but small enough to be less noticeable when walking around with one. With a fullsize 1911 I always wore a loose outer garment, such as a zippered sweater. With the Bill Wilson Carry I can get away with having nothing more than a buttoned fitted shirt untucked over the gun.

Despite the smaller grip each of the magazines that came with the gun had built-in extensions of the front strap, providing adequate real estate for my pinky to rest against and help mitigate recoil. While we’re on the subject of the grip, I wanted to mention something that caught my eye as soon as I picked the gun up for the first time.

The front and back straps on the Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry’s grip have a fairly aggressive pattern cut into them. A standard 1911 might have some horizontal scoring, but this was much more aggressive and a lot more “grippy.” Holding it in your hand you get the feeling that there’s no way you’re going to drop it even if your hand is soaked in motor oil. Which is perfect for a self defense gun (like this), but at the range it started to get a little annoying after the second hundred rounds. It’s a feature that I love having on a self defense gun, but might have to resort to medical taping over it for extended range sessions.

Complaint #2, as I said, was my own damned fault. I wanted a “pretty” gun and didn’t think about the repercussions of carrying it until I was standing at the check-in counter at Reagan National Airport about to “unload and show clear” to a ticket agent with a line of people behind me. For a self defense firearm the primary concern with the finish is decreasing the likelihood that it will be seen, a feature that the Wilson Combat pistol does very well.

The finish on the Bill Wilson Carry is something called Armor-Tuff, which is a proprietary finish they put on a lot of their guns. The result is a flat dark finish that claims to be tough enough to withstand corrosion even when immersed in saltwater for 60 days. It is a rather thin layer of protection, weighing in at just about 1/1,000th of an inch, and by the time the gun got to me some areas of the gun already were starting to show their age. RF promised me a gun, period. Not necessarily a new gun. But I try not to look gift horses in the mouth.

Another benefit from the coating is that lubrication is increased, meaning the slide should move a lot easier. Which it does. That thing is like sliding two oiled pieces of glass against each other. Translation (for those without two spare pieces of glass): it’s as smooth as smooth can be. Until you put the spring in there.

The recoil spring in this gun… “Beefy” does not begin to cover it. Never in my life have I ever felt an action this tough, with the possible exception of the action on an M2 Browning .50 BMG Machine Gun. It’s so tough that I couldn’t release the slide stop as effectively or quickly as I’d like when reloading. After a few mag changes I gave up on trying and reverted to gripping the back of the slide and yanking it to release. Which is OK for self defense situations, but not so good for competition.

As if they had imagined this happening, Wilson Combat made the serrations a lot easier to grip and hold onto. With a standard 1911 the serrations on the slide are straight up and down, but with the Wilson Combat serrations they’ve been placed at an angle. I don’t know if there’s any science behind it, but to me it feels a lot easier to grip and a lot more comfortable.

Complaint #3 with the old 1911 is the biggest bugbear. I can stand a crappy feeling gun as long as the sights are fairly good, and by fairly good I mean easy to pick up and easy to see. USGI sights, like those on my Springfield 1911A1, meet none of those requirements. One of my friends who rocks a 1911 in competition shooting like no man I have ever seen routinely tries to use my gun just because the sights are that terrible (he claims it makes him faster with his “real gun” to practice with bad sights).

Wilson Combat’s sights are nice and huge. Not big enough to where they won’t fit in a holster anymore, but large enough that the eye easily finds them. To make it even easier Wilson Combat includes a green fiber optic front sight. Why green? Because its the easiest to see in dark conditions. Hence why night vision and (most) tritium sights are green.

What makes these sights so easy to pick up is the fact that they’re gigantic and chunky. USGI sights have a slim profile to them, but these (comparatively) are shoeboxes. Which is great. Small things are hard to see under pressure, so the bigger the better especially on self defense guns.

Complaint #4 about the 1911A1: the safety. Not that the gun was unsafe, but the mechanical devices that prevented me from accidentally shooting myself in the thigh were a little tough to use on my 1911A1.

The thumb safety on a normal 1911 is pretty tough. There’s not a lot of space on the lever itself to put your thumb, and the safety isn’t easy to engage or disengage in a hurry. Wilson Combat’s thumb safety fixes this problem by providing a MASSIVE surface area and a silky smooth movement of the safety allowing for easy movement.

Speaking of safeties, the 1911A1 still had a “standard” grip safety. The grip safety is one of the features that I particularly like about the 1911 design — its a device that provides extra security against the gun going off, but is automatically disengaged when the gun is gripped. You don’t have to do anything special, it’s just there. One of the first things changed on JMB’s 1911 design after it was adopted: the design of the grip safety. And for good reason. It sucked. This spawned the 1911A1 design with an improved grip safety. But it still sucked. It no longer allowed the hammer to bite you, but it still left welts. Which is a problem.

A standard grip safety likes to leave two massive welts on my hand after I’ve fired the gun a few times, and that gets painful. So painful, in fact, that I was forced to replace the grip safety on my Springfield with a Wilson Combat beavertail safety.

The beavertail safety increases the surface area where the gun meets your hand and distributes the force evenly, whereas the standard safety only contacted your hand in two specific places. The Bill Wilson Carry comes with a very nice beavertail grip safety finished to match the rest of the frame.

Complaint #5: the 1911A1’s trigger. And I have to admit, I didn’t see this get much better in the Bill Wilson Carry. It improved, but not a whole lot.

A trigger, for me, is what makes or breaks a gun. The difference between a crappy trigger and a good trigger is the difference between “on paper” and a 10 ring shot. The ability to choose the exact moment when the gun will fire, especially with smaller handheld firearms, makes all the difference. You can’t do that with a crappy trigger.

The trigger on my Springfield 1911A1 was terrible. It had a significant amount of creep (even after the slack), it had a nice false break, and it just felt “mooshy.” By comparison, the Wilson Combat trigger is fantastic. There’s very little slack. There’s almost no creep. Almost. There’s not a lot, but enough so that I let out an audible sigh when I felt it for the first time.

I have felt a handgun with a glass smooth and creep free break. I know it can be done. But I didn’t see it on display in the Bill Wilson Carry. Don’t get me wrong — the trigger is still WAY better than the Springfield; it’s just not “perfect.” And while we’re looking at that picture, I wanted to touch on another feature: the slide stop pin. That’s the bit that holds a 1911 together. Removing it is the major step in field stripping.

One of the nice things about the 1911 design: the slide stop pin protrudes from the other side of the frame, making it easy to push the pin out and disassemble the gun. On the Bill Wilson Carry, the slide stop pin is too short to protrude from the other side and the frame is countersunk to let your finger get to the pin, all in an attempt to make it easier to install a Crimson Trace (or similar) laser. Personally I would have preferred a full length pin (as I don’t use lasers and think they’re dumb) but to each their own.

The last complaint about my old gun: reliability.

The ejector on a standard 1911 is a square-ish piece, designed in a time when small parts had a tendency to be brittle and shear off. As such, it stops where the frame stops. This can be a problem (as my Springfield 1911A1 demonstrated time and again). By being so far back the extractor often can’t exert enough force to kick the empty case out of the gun. This leads to an issue called a “failure to eject” (FTE).

While on the range testing the Bill Wilson Carry, I decided to put some rounds through my Springfield 1911A1 as well to get a good point of comparison. Within 20 rounds the 1911A1 was having FTEs. The Bill Wilson Carry performed admirably through 300 rounds. The extended ejector made all the difference in the world in terms of reliability.

Speaking of the test firing, I think we’ve had about enough complaints. Time for the targets. 25 rounds, 7 yards (21 feet).

First up is the old Springfield 1911A1. Yup, not my finest work.

That’s more like it. The .45 ACP cartridge is still throwing me off, as I’m used to my “pansy little 9mm round” as my friends call it, but that still looks like an OK group to me.

Speaking of recoil, this thing is a BEAST! I thought a 5″ 1911 was bad, but the lighter weight, shorter barrel and heavier spring all make recoil noticeably heavier than the Springfield 1911A1. It’s not terrible, but it is heavier and makes you glad the front and back straps have those grippy cuts in them. The phrase “bulldog” kept popping up in my mind, and I think that’s the perfect way to describe this gun. A scrappy bulldog in your waistband.

One of the main differences in the groups is the vertical spread, and I think I can imagine a reason why the Wilson Combat excels in keeping rounds on target.

The Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry has a “match” barrel that sits flush with the frame. There’s no barrel bushing like with the Springfield 1911A1, so the barrel remains firmly fixed in place as the gun fires. This bushing-free design makes takedown a little interesting (as the slide stop pin is pulled with the spring still under tension), but otherwise the gun works identically to the original 1911 design.

The Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry is the perfect 1911 in .45 ACP for concealed carry. It fixes every issue I had with the fullsize version, mixes in a little tactical chic style, and completes the package with only the most subtle hints as to its maker. It’s Bill Wilson’s idea of perfection, and as far as I can tell it’s close to my ideal carry gun as well.

I don’t think I can give a better recommendation than this: I’ve carried it every day since I first fired it and trust it with my life.

Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911

Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel: 4″
Weight: 35 oz. Empty
Finish: Armor-tuff
Capacity: 7+1 (more with different mags)
MSRP: $3,080

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
All ratings are relative to other similar guns, and the final score IS NOT calculated from the constituent scores.

Accuracy: * * * * *
The handgun is guaranteed to leave a 1.25″ hole in a target at 25 yards. And after shooting it I completely believe that. The accuracy is remarkable, especially with such a short barrel.

Ergonomics: * * * * 1/2
The smaller grip does take some getting used to, but once you do it’s not all that different from a fullsize 1911. Marked down 1/2 star for that, and because the grippy panels hurt my precious soft girly hands.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Up until the moment you pull the trigger all is well. Recoil, however, is a bit stiff. As in, I don’t think a .357 Mag had that much of a kick. The short barrel and light weight really take a toll during firing.

Concealed Carry: * * * * *
I just walked through the local supermarket with this thing IWB wearing nothing but a fitted shirt. I tried to do that with the fullsize 1911 once, almost had the cops called on me by a screaming mother. No one so much as batted an eyelash this time, and it was much more comfortable to wear.

Reliability: * * * * *
300+ rounds, no failures. No reported failures. No rumors of failures on the internet. Nothing.

That’s right, zero stars. this gun has a couple of options that you can request from the factory, but once its out the door that’s it. And that’s the point. It’s Bill Wilson’s child, his perfect gun, and changing it would be sacrilege.

Overall Rating: * * * *
I think it’s the choice of a .45 ACP cartridge that knocked the fifth star off for me. Yeah yeah “stopping power,” I know, but in such a short gun the recoil is enough to make you not want to shoot it that often. If Wilson Combat offered one in 9mm I’d be all over that like white on rice, but as .45 ACP is the only available flavor I’ll happily deal with it. Other than that this is the perfect concealed carry gun.

Bill Wilson Carry product website